What happens when Parks are leased to private event operators?

Each spring and summer, Council allows Catani Gardens and South Beach Reserve to be fenced off, periodically, by private operators and transformed into ticketed music events. These weekend ‘festivals’ require extensive infrastructure and increasingly longer set up and pull down times. Is St Kilda’s foreshore heading in the same direction as the Albert Park Grand Prix?  Peter Goad explains the impact of the annual car race on the park.

There is widespread agreement that public parks are vital for the well being of our neighbourhoods, so it would be expected that Albert Park Reserve would be managed accordingly. However this is not the case. During the years 1994-96 the park was redesigned and reconstructed to accommodate car racing and has since been subjected to an annual transformation into a temporary circuit. This has produced a profound negative effect on the park as a contributor to neighbourhood well being.

It takes five months to build and dismantle the temporary car racing circuit and then repair damage to the park.  During that time, from the first week in January to the end of May, the park is effectively under the control of a contractor, not Parks Victoria, and the work benefits external business interests not the park’s function as a ‘home of amateur sport’.  Sports clubs are denied access to their grounds for periods of up to 18 weeks. Field 6  is closed for 4 weeks, Oval 12 for 11 weeks, Oval 17 for 9 weeks, Field 16 West for 18 weeks. Oval 21, used as the site of a huge ‘Chicane’ corporate pavilion, cannot recover from year to year and is not available for organized sport.

Construction of the temporary circuit involves the trucking in and then trucking out around 40,000 tonnes of race infrastructure. The ambience of the park for walkers and picnickers is destroyed by constant truck movements, the use of heavy machinery in circuit construction which creates fume, noise and dust, and by the erection of massive advertising displays. The park is surrounded by black plastic covered fencing and is totally closed for one week when the event takes place. The noise levels created by the event are extremely high, up to 85 decibels even at 500 metres distance. Racing cars are fitted with noise amplifying devices to satisfy the expectations of the fans, regardless of the effect this might have on the immediate neighbourhood.

The 1994-96 reconstruction of the park involved the destruction of around 1000 trees and the construction of ‘pit straight’, an 800 metre long and wide strip of bitumen with a large, permanent ‘pit building’. Pit straight is bordered by a treeless strip reserved for grandstands. The pit straight area represents a substantial ‘heat sink’ located in the centre of the park which otherwise could be covered with tree lined sports fields.

The most far-reaching effect of the annual grand prix event is the paralysis it creates in planning for the future of the park. The park has been effectively ‘corporatised’ under a contract with the US  owners of Formula One  car racing and the needs of the car racing circuit have to be given first priority. This means there can be no real development of Albert Park Reserve.

Peter Goad is the President of the Save Albert Park group.